1st February 2006
When Colin McAlpine received the phone call in the wee hours following the Magic Millions raceday, he knew it was bad news. It usually is.
“I knew his time had come. It happens to all of us” Colin McAlpine told Sportsman this week. But the impact of Semipalatinsk’s death runs deep with McAlpine. “I’ve done nothing else but be with horses all my life from as far back as when I took over from my father. I’ve seen a lot of horses come and go in that time but I have never felt quite a sadness as much as with Semi,” he said.
That’s how he was known to McAlpine – just as Semi.
It was sadly ironic that Semi left this world on Magic Millions day. Semi’s own contribution to the organisation is so remarkable that it will remain unparalleled. “He was there when the sale started in 1986 and he had a yearling there this year and every one in between,” McAlpine proudly recalled. “He sired the winner, Sea Cabin, when the race was in only its second year after Snippets won the first running.”
Like all great stallions, the story behind Semi’s acquisition is a tale in itself as McAlpine explained.
“He was foaled in Kentucky and bought by an Italian to race in Italy. I was searching for a Star Kingdom line stallion to buy as they were the flavour of the industry at the time,” he said. McAlpine was a constant shuttler between the United Kingdom and Australia in search of bloodstock, mostly broodmares, when he heard about the son of Nodouble.
“I was in England at the time dealing with the BBA when Semipalatinsk was offered to me. It was extraordinary at the time, but nobody could pronounce his name? They were calling him all sorts of things. Of course it’s easy to say now.” By the time McAlpine and Semi first crossed paths, the horse had a sufficiently solid two-year-old career behind him. He was in fact favourite for an imminent Group Two race in Italy.
“I had the option to buy the horse,” McAlpine said, “but in those days the technology wasn’t like it is today. There were no faxes or mobile phones. I was going to Tamworth to the sales and subsequently had a telegram arrive to advise me that the horse was on the market.”
McAlpine travelled from Tamworth to Lindsay Park to visit with two of his lifelong friends, Harry Line and C. S. Hayes. After revealing Semi’s existence to Harry, McAlpine’s initial instincts were confirmed. “Harry said that if I didn’t buy him he’d put him up to the boss (C.S.).”
McAlpine concluded the sale forking out $250,000 to secure this oddly named grandson of 1959 Cox Plate hero Noholme.
“He didn’t arrive until June or July. He stood his first season at $5,000 and served about 50 mares.” From the 35 live foals that resulted, Semi was able to leave the AJC Oaks winner, Just Now. Not long after he’d sired the winner of only the second ever Magic Millions 2YO Classic in Sea Cabin.
Already the stallion’s versatility was becoming evident. It was eventually to brand him as one of the most encompassing sires of the modern era. “He’s sired winners from 800 to 3200 metres on the flat. As well as that he sired the winner of both the Grand National Steeple and the Grand National Hurdle. I don’t think any stallion has done that ever.
He has sired winners in every state in Australia.” Apart from some epic deeds as a sire of almost 500 winners at nigh on 70 percent winners-to-runners, these days Semi is making a serious impact as a broodmare sire. Some of his daughters have produced the likes of Private Steer, Danelagh and Savannah Success. The later pair have both been to stud and left Vengeance of Rain, Dizelle and Savabeel respectively.
Thankfully, Semi lived just long enough to see descendant Savannah Success leave the highest price yearling ever sold at the Magic Millions when a Red Ransom fetched $1.55 million. Much more could be written about Semi, so large is his contribution. But it’s fitting that Colin McAlpine, a man who once rejected a $4.5 million offer for the horse, have the final say. “I doubt if there’ll ever be another stallion like him. He created history with his many achievements. He is the King of Eureka, no doubt at all.”